November 25, 2012  By Alexander Pyles, Daily Record Business Writer

One’s a Northwestern-educated physician; the other, a Yale-trained lawyer who also earned a Ph.D. from Michigan. Both have been on the job for just two years.

University of Maryland, Baltimore President Dr. Jay A. Perman and University of Maryland, College Park President Wallace D. LohBut University of Maryland, Baltimore President Dr. Jay A. Perman and University of Maryland, College Park President Wallace D. Loh get along great, they say, and have already overseen a drastic shift in the way the state’s two largest research institutions work together.

So, what’s next?

“There is a crying need for legal training near the suburbs of D.C.,” Loh said. “The two state law schools are all in Baltimore.”

The next collaborative act between the universities should bring night and weekend law classes taught by University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law faculty in Baltimore to suburban Washington, where the only law schools are in the District.

“You can tell we’re doing a heck of a lot in health care and the biomedical field, because it’s a lot of what we are here, and we’re just made better by the partnership we have with College Park in that regard,” Perman said. “But we don’t just do health care, and law’s a great opportunity.”

Loh and Perman, who are carrying out a directive of the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents to marry Baltimore’s professional schools with the 40,000-student university in College Park, spoke about their plans with Daily Record reporters in a wide-ranging interview in Perman’s 14th floor office on the UMB campus.

Perman calls the collaboration a “marriage,” and the presidents appear to still be in the honeymoon phase — they’re not fighting, they’re not finishing each other’s sentences, and they seem to like each other a whole lot.

“Whatever difficulties there are for two institutions to work together, it’s nothing compared to the fact of two institutions not working together,” Loh said, Perman listening carefully.

“Well said,” Perman interjected. “Well said.”

School of Public Health

The universities have already started the accrediting process for a Collaborative School of Public Health and recently hired an executive director to oversee the merger of their technology transfer offices.

Now, they’re turning their gaze to law.

“The people near D.C., in Prince George’s County, in Montgomery County … what they’ve been doing is going to places like George Washington [and] Georgetown, and paying private tuition, which is triple the cost of the very high-quality legal education you can get at University of Maryland law schools,” Loh said.

Perman said UMB is working on creating a night and weekend law school, probably in College Park, to facilitate that need. He added that UMB law school faculty may help teach pre-law undergraduate courses in College Park, too.

“This begins to propel the discussion about what some people call articulation programs,” Perman said. “Get students started in the undergraduate school in a particular profession and then be very oriented to coming up here.”

The articulation program, Loh said, could be critical to keeping undergraduate students interested in attending law school in the state.

“If you graduate from the University of Maryland and you go out of the state to get your law school education, the chances are you will not return,” he said. “So, if we can have a program whereby there’s this articulation, and makes it easier for them to move straight into the Maryland law school, the state of Maryland will benefit enormously.”

It’s not just about keeping more lawyers in Maryland, Perman said. It’s about keeping the kind of student who can successfully earn a Juris Doctor degree inside state lines, where they can have a positive impact on Maryland’s future.

“You’re training people for positions of legal leadership,” Perman said.

The shift toward a law focus came after many months of the universities focusing on business and health care efforts.

UM Ventures

The universities announced this month a director for UM Ventures, their joint research commercialization office, and the creation of a research center that will use data analysis capabilities at College Park to better health care research and practice in Baltimore, while also making investigative teams eligible for medical research grants that otherwise would not be available.

The takeaway, Loh and Perman say, is that they want faculty on each campus working together on projects. Loh said one partnership has led to the invention of a robot that can be guided by a neurosurgeon during brain surgery.

“You have computer scientists with the technology and the know-how, and you have the biomedical researchers who have the problems,” Loh said. “This neurosurgeon wants to be able to operate in the brain. And he needs a way to get to the brain without killing the patient, I assume.

“So, he has the problem, the mechanical engineer has a solution, they come together and they have a prototype that seems to work and they get a $2 million grant.”

The team may ultimately market the product commercially, Loh said, bringing UM Ventures into the mix. The two universities together conduct $1 billion in research annually.

“It’s terribly important to the way health care is going, and neither one of our two institutions could get as far with it as we can together,” Perman said. “It’s one of these value-added opportunities.”

The focus on commercialization and cooperation depends on buy-in from faculty, the presidents say. The university system has made that buy-in slightly less costly by including commercialization of research in the formula used to determine tenure.

But Loh said there are still some faculty members in College Park who want to research and publish in top journals, not become businessmen.

A ‘generational gap’

“There is a generational gap. When you look at the engineers and the scientists who are, let’s say, over the age of 45, they’ve been trained and educated in a totally different world,” Loh said. “They’ve been trained and socialized to do research, basic research, and publish in top journals, and they’re rewarded for that.

“But then you talk to these young professors coming in, in their late 20s and early 30s, all they’re talking about is commercialization. It is truly a generational issue.”

Perman said faculty members at UMB have embraced the shift. But he agreed that today’s academics and researchers were not being raised in the same world that he and Loh were.

“We were raised up in a world of rugged individualism. We were raised up when the reward mechanisms in academia rewarded individual accomplishment,” Perman said. “Particularly in the biomedical field and probably other fields as well, what was important was whether you were the first name on the paper if there with a bunch of authors … or the last name, those were the prominent spots. If you were in between, it meant you were a small fry.

“It’s all about team now, it’s all about partnerships. And I think the people that are being raised up today understand because this is the way we’ve gotten them started.”

That’s critical, Loh said, because other countries have caught and are surpassing the United States in entrepreneurship.

“Maintaining American supremacy and economic competiveness is perhaps the fundamental challenge for this country in the 21st century, faced with the rise of these emerging nations,” he said. “So long as you’re not compelling people to do it, I think most of the other faculty will say fine. Now, some will still grumble about it.”

The presidents have craftily spent money to get the state’s and the Board of Regents’ directives started. But, Perman said, continued progress is going to depend on how much cash the General Assembly and Gov. Martin O’Malley can funnel into the collaboration.

“Both of us have taken what we can take — to use the fancy word, reallocated — to get some of the initiatives we’ve talked about started. But some of these big ideas do take money that is not present in the two institutions,” Perman said. “We have asks in. We have a long way to go, there’s no question about it. But I think we’ve made a lot of progress and I think we’ve demonstrated to people that we’re serious we can do a lot together.

“It’s going to take some investment.”

Leadership — at the state, university system and university level — also needs to remain focused on the collaboration, Loh said, which “should have been done long ago.

“We have more professors at College Park with joint appointments with universities in China and India and Europe,” he said. “You mean to tell me that it’s easier to have a joint appointment 3,000 miles away than 35 miles away?

“You asked about conflicts, those are some of the conflicts. But those are bureaucratic conflicts. And what you need to make this happen is basically leadership from the top.”